Before I became a sports blogger, I was a rock journalist. I saw over one hundred concerts from the 80s to the 90s and witnessed incredible performances from The Rolling Stones, U2, Nine Inch Nails, Midnight Oil, Adam Ant, Metallica and so many other bands. But the one gig that is most vivid for me is from the summer of 1986 when I went to a small club called Summer’s On The Beach on the Fort Lauderdale strip to see rock gods The Group Of Death. I don’t remember everything from that night, but I do remember the band blowing me away with their performance of balls-out rock’n roll that shook the stage.
Coincidentally, I also remember meeting the band’s manager, Shirley, after the show and her introducing me to the term “Hand Of God.” Little did I know that a young Argentine footballer would create his own version of the “Hand Of God” the following day by stealing a goal for Argentina against England in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Mexico.
Fast forward 23 years later to 2009 and The Group Of Death are still rocking out, promoting soccer and touring the globe. Maradona is now coach of Argentina, but Shirley’s whereabouts are unknown. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with the band’s publicity manager who granted me access to lead vocalist (and also bass player and vuvuzela blower) Baron von Steve, who called in while on the road from a hotel in Cleveland to discuss the history of the band and the release of their brand-new rockumentary (see above video). Here’s the transcript of the exclusive interview:
Q: How and when did the band form?
A: The Group of Death has been around for over 50 years (since 1958), but our membership changes all the time. We’re like a soccer-inspired heavy metal version of Menudo. Except, you know how Menudo has an age limit? In the Group of Death, you have to retire when it becomes obvious that you can no longer shred. We call it getting Black Carded. Once you get that Black Card, you’re out. It’s pretty intense but everyone understands, it’s all about the soccer-inspired music. When you lose that focus, you gotta go.
Because there are membership changes, we are the world’s most global band (which is appropriate because soccer is the world’s most global sport). We’re huge in Southeastern Asia and many of the Central American countries. If you spend any amount of time in Belmopan, Belize, you wouldn’t be able to escape the Group of Death. They love us over there.
Q: What was it like making the Group of Death rockumentary?
A: You know how when you’re making a batch of brownies, it’s really difficult to concentrate on the task at hand because you don’t want to mix ingredients, you want to eat the delicious treats that you see on the box. And then you have to bake them and that’s even harder because you’ve tasted the batter and it’s awesome but now you’ve got to wait another 25 minutes for the brownies to bake. And then, after the oven timer finally goes off and you cut out one of those tender morsels, it’s warm and chocolaty and even better than you imagined? Sort of like that.
Q: Have you had any interaction with Spinal Tap on the road? And, if so, which band is the bigger supporter of soccer?
A: We get asked about our relationship with The Tap all the time. Probably because our hair is so much more metal and evolved than theirs. But, yes, we cross paths with the guys every now and then, especially when we’re playing in Eastern Europe. Did you know that there’s a Spinal Tap museum in Bratislava? We played a benefit there back in 1986, before it was still part of the Czech Republic. They love their soccer-inspired metal over in Slovakia. Good people. Anyway, as far as which band supports soccer more, we’ll answer that question with a question: how many bands have dedicated their entire catalog of music to the beautiful game? Find Spinal Tap and ask them when they’re going to release an album that’s totally devoted to attackers (Hello “The Stryker of Love”?). When The Tap can answer those questions, we’ll answer this one.
Q: Are there any plans for a tour between now and the World Cup?
A: We’re still working out a lot of the details for this year’s tour. It’s harder for us to tour because we expel so much emotional and mental energy blowing people’s minds at the show on the day of the draw that we need more time to recover than most bands. I can’t talk for a week after the concert and The Ant won’t get out of bed for at least a month. Being part of the Group of Death is a more exhausting commitment than most people can even fathom.
Q: Which is more important for you – soccer or groupies?
A: We’re only interested in Groupers – groupies who love soccer. You can’t be down with the band and our music without being 100% committed to loving the game as well. Sure we like to party and have a good time but we’re also going to get up at 6 am to watch ManU play Arsenal. That’s part of being in the Group of Death. If you can’t hang with that kind of lifestyle, go hang out with Aerosmith.
Q: Has anyone in your band had a similar experience to Derek Smalls of being caught with a strategically placed foil-wrapped cucumber in their trousers?
A: Back in 1998, Monster Matt stepped on the stage at an outdoor festival in Austria and he was wearing indoor cleats. When we started playing “Your Love Is Like A Boot To The Face” our fans booing. We almost black-carded Monster on the spot. He apologized and told us that his cleats were giving him blisters. We forgave him but he was on probation for sure.
Q: What would be a dream-come-true for The Group Of Death rock band?
A: That’s hard to say because we’ve been all over the world and melted the faces off dignitaries everywhere. Did you know that Prince Charles is a huge fan of the Group of Death. We played “Welcome To The Group of Death” for him once and he started crying because, he said, “it spoke to his soul.” That being said, we just wrote a song called “Soccer City” and it’s all about the 2010 World Cup. It would be our immense honor to play that song in Johannesburg for a global audience of soccer fans, united in rock.
Q: Any final words?
A: Absolutely. To borrow from one of our crowd favorites: “You call it soccer. And we call it football. We both call it Awesome. The best sport of all.” That about sums it up.
Editor’s note: Thanks again to the band’s publicist for granting me the exclusive interview with Baron von Steve. To learn more about The Group Of Death’s escapades, visit their Facebook page or view more of their videos on our sister site, World Cup Buzz. You can also see and hear an acoustic version of their song, Welcome To The Group Of Death, on YouTube.